Sometimes I wonder if the long, exhausting six-week preseason training camp of professional football was devised as a penance for me for having broken the vow I made in the waning minutes before my final game as a high school senior. "This is the last football game I am ever going to play," I had promised myself.
I have since told the Authority to whom vows are directed that I was just kidding. After all, I was then just a nervous, nearsighted young end who was about to play against the school's biggest rival. It was a night game, and night games meant blurred passes coming in my direction, because the school's lighting system had the power of a string of flashlights.
Imagine what would happen if I dropped a pass against the big rival! At Hawthorne High School that almost would have been grounds for revocation of Varsity Club membership.
So I made the vow that was intended to forever purge my stomach of that queasy wish-I-were-anywhere-but-here feeling. But four months later, when the University of Southern California offered me an athletic scholarship, I decided not to count the vow as official.
Now, in 1963, another term of penance is about to begin. The veterans of the San Diego Chargers report tomorrow to Rough Acres for training camp.
After breakfast I packed tennis shoes, Bermuda shorts, two summer shirts, a guitar, toilet articles and books. I knew Paul Lowe would bring a deck of cards, so I left mine at home. The standard attire in any training camp is T shirt, Bermuda shorts and shower thongs or tennis shoes. Everybody is too tired to wear anything but the bare essentials.
I placed the essentials in my 1958 blue Chevrolet, accepted a goodby-my-son kiss from my mother and began the drive to Rough Acres. East on Highway 80 for 66 miles. The sun was glaring white. The surrounding area was rocky hills, mountains and flatland that defied the growth of normal vegetation. Even the stink-weeds looked sickly. Here and there a fairly clear section of land supported a ranch or a town. Places with appropriate names like Tierra Del Sol and Wild Acres. A couple of miles past a sign that announced the population of Boulevard to be 50, I turned down the serpentining dirt road that led to Rough Acres Ranch.
Rough Acres looks like the dude ranch it is meant to be in the future. Down from the main lodge are diamond-shaped stone duplexes, forming a long horseshoe. There are a few trees. To the left of the living area, as one looks down from the lodge, is the football field. And as far as one can see is the barren, rock-covered land. The practices will be miserable in this setting. This I know. It might be nice for vacationers to sip a drink in the sun, but to practice football in this heat!...I decided to ask Coach Sid Gillman for $1,000 more than I had intended to ask for.